11 MayExcavating an Anglo-Saxon burial

During the investigation of an Anglo-Saxon cemetery near Manston along the East Kent Access Road, I had the opportunity to excavate a particularly interesting grave. This contained the remains of what appeared to be an elderly male, probably buried within a coffin. The grave, which was dug into the natural chalk, was unusually large, measuring 2.5 x 1.15 x 0.57m. The grave was aligned east to west which suggests that the man may have been a Christian.

Although the man’s bones were in poor condition, the objects he was buried with were exciting to uncover, both as an archaeologist and as an Anglo-Saxon re-enactor. This man had been buried with a scramasax, a type of short sword, across his chest. The scramasax was 15 inches (36cm) long. As well as this three smaller knives had been placed by his left side.

The Anglo-Saxon burial

The word Scramasax is Anglo-Saxon and in those times they were not only practical weapons but also an indication of the social status of the individual. A free man would not travel anywhere without his scramasax attached to his belt across his waist, and it is likely that this man held an important role in the community– maybe a Shire Reeve.

Some metal objects from a belt were found at the dead man’s waist. There was a small copper buckle on his right side near his pelvis and a small copper belt fitting on his left side. By his feet there were also some iron objects. One of these had a small copper rivet through it and it might be from a sword scabbard?

This man was obviously important and well respected by his family to have such fine objects buried with him.

Michael Harris.